Luna Moth: A Brief But Beautiful Life
The beautiful luna moth, Actias luna, is a large white-bodied moth,
with lime green-colored wings and pinkish legs.
This Wisconsin native is found in the state from spring to summer and flies only in the evenings.
The name luna means moon, apparently a reference to the moon-like eyespots on its wings.
||1 week after emerging from cocoon
||3 to 4½ inches
||Lime green-colored wings and pinkish legs.
||Lime green with a series of yellow lines and reddish-orange spots running down both sides.
||Molts 5 times over 3-4 weeks
||Alder, birch, beech, red maple, white oak, wild cherry, hazelnut, hickories, pecan, and walnut
||Adults do not feed
Both male and female luna moths are pale green, with long, curving tails trailing from their hindwings
and light eyespots on each wing. Early season broods in the south will be darker in color, with an outer
margin marked in deep pink to brown. Later southern broods and all northern broods tend to be paler
in color, with an almost yellow outer margin.
Males can be differentiated from females by their prominent, feathery antennae.
Luna moth caterpillars are lime green with magenta spots and sparse hairs, and a pale stripe running
lengthwise just below the spiracles. They reach a length of 2½ inches
The luna moth undergoes complete metamorphosis with 4 life stages: egg, larva, pupa,
and adult. After mating, the female luna moth oviposits on leaves of the host plant. She
may produce as many as 200 eggs in total. The eggs hatch in about 1 week.
Luna moth caterpillars feed and molt through five instars (molts) in 3-4 weeks.
Once it's ready to pupate, the caterpillar constructs a simple cocoon of leaves. The pupal stage lasts
about 3 weeks in warmer climates.
The luna moth will overwinter in this stage in colder regions, usually hidden under the leaf litter near the
host tree. The luna moth usually emerges from its cocoon in the morning, and is ready to fly by evening.
As adults, luna moths live just 1 week or less.
The luna moth exhibits a pheromone mating system. Undeterred by obstacles such as leaves
and branches, the male moths will persistently follow the scent trail of a female. Then the female will typically
mate with the first male to reach her.
Since the luna moth is a nocturnal species, mating usually occurs in the first hours after midnight. If the pair
is undisturbed then they will remain in copula until the next evening, but the slightest disturbance can cause
separation. After the separation of the pair, then ovipostion will begin and continue for several
A female luna moth will seek a host plant in which to oviposit. Some populations of luna moths complete more
than one generation in a year.
The luna moth is a nocturnal species and is not often seen in the daytime. The Luna moth uses wing patterns as
a defense against predators. The Luna moth can mimic living and dead leaves on the ground by remaining motionless
when not involved in reproductive behavior and also becomes nearly impossible to see during the day when roosting
on the bark of sycamore trees.
Should a bird or other predator approach, they will often rear up and attempt to scare the attacker away.
When that doesn't work, the luna moth caterpillar may snap its mandibles to make a clicking sound, thought
to be a warning of what's coming – vomit. Luna moth caterpillars will regurgitate a foul-tasting liquid to
convince potential predators that they are not at all tasty.
The luna moth is an insect herbivore. As a caterpillar it feeds on the foliage of various species of hickory,
walnut, sweet-gum, persimmon, and birch trees.
The adult luna moth does not feed during its brief life as it does not have a mouth or stomach.
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